Data is important. It is essential for companies looking to maintain a competitive edge - helping them to drive down costs, pinpoint potentially profitable areas that they may have been missing, and in making fact-based decisions that don’t rely on the fallibility of gut instinct.
Data is everywhere, but it nows comes in such huge volumes, and often in such complex formats, that it is near impossible for the layman to comprehend. Being able to understand data has, for a long time, been the preserve of a handful of highly paid data scientists and analysts. However, organizations are increasingly realizing the benefits of adopting a collaborative, holistic approach to drawing insights from their data, one in which all levels - from CEO to shop floor - can access the data analytics power needed for effective decision making.
The idea of helping everybody to access and understand data is known as data democratization. Data democratization means breaking down silos and providing access to data when and where it is needed at any given moment. In recent years, a plethora of products have been released which help to make sense of data so that it can be more easily understood. Data visualization is one of the innovations to have had a massive impact.
Gartner predicts that by 2017, most business users and analysts in organizations will be able to access self-service tools that prepare data for analysis, citing the rise of data discovery, access to multi-structured data, data preparation tools and smart capabilities. Recent research from MIT Sloan Management Review also found that the democratization of data is on the rise, with 77% of respondents reporting an increase in access to useful data since last year.
Rita Sallam, research vice president at Gartner, argues that: ‘Data preparation is one of most difficult and time-consuming challenges facing business users of BI and data discovery tools, as well as advanced analytics platforms. However, data preparation capabilities are emerging that will provide business users and analysts the ability to extend the scope of self-service to include information management, and extract, transform and load (ETL) functions, enabling them to access, profile, prepare, integrate, curate, model and enrich data for analysis and consumption by BI and analytics platforms.’
However, there is still substantial debate around whether data democratization can actually benefit companies that adopt it. There are concerns around the security risks inherent with allowing unfettered access to potentially sensitive data. Many also believe that there still needs to be a level of skill and knowledge involved in those analyzing the data, and that business leaders left to their own devices will draw inaccurate conclusions from the data and, as a result, make the wrong decisions.
In order to allay such concerns, there needs to be strong governance in place that ensures the data is carefully managed. It is also important to provide everyone in the organization with training to fully utilize the data to drive the company forward.